Employment Law Case Update: Plant v API Microelectronics Ltd
Social media issues aren’t going away any time soon. Here’s another cautionary tale in the case of Plant v API Microelectronics Ltd.
Mrs Plant was employed by the API Microelectronics Ltd for 17 years and had a clean disciplinary record. API introduced a social media policy which provided a non-exhaustive list of unacceptable social media activity, including the publishing of comments that could damage the reputation of the company. The policy also stated that conversations on Facebook are not truly private as they can be copied and forwarded to others. The policy provided that breaches could lead to disciplinary action and serious breaches could be regarded as gross misconduct and result in dismissal.
API made an announcement that the firm would possibly be moving to a new premises. Following this they discovered that Mrs Plant had made inappropriate comments on Facebook. On Mrs Plant’s profile on Facebook she had put her job title description as ‘general dogsbody’. She had also posted the following comment after the announcement “PMSL [pissing myself laughing] bloody place I need to hurry up and sue them PMSL”.
API investigated and then called Mrs Plant in for a disciplinary hearing. At the hearing Mrs Plant denied knowing that her Facebook was linked to the employer but did not dispute that her comments were aimed at them. She was dismissed for a breach of policy based on the offensive nature of her comments.
The Employment Tribunal found that the dismissal was fair. Mrs Plant had admitted she was aware of the social media policy and what it entailed and she admitted that the insulting comments did result in a breakdown of trust with her employer. The ET concluded that the respondent did have reasonable grounds for dismissal.
This case demonstrates the importance of employers putting in place clear social media policies which give guidance on the use of social media and sanctions for breach. Employers should ensure their employees understand the policies by giving training on them and then getting confirmation from employees that they have read and understood the policies.
Tribunals take into account many factors in assessing whether a dismissal related to social media misuse is fair such as, the nature and severity of the comments made by the employee, the subject matter and the extent of the damage caused to the employer’s reputation. Employers should be aware of these factors when considering dismissing an employee for social media misconduct in order to show they have been fair.
This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.